The existing water pipeline infrastructure in India is coming under increased pressure due to increasing urbanisation and growing population. Currently, more than 40 per cent of the water produced in several cities of the country is wasted before reaching the end consumer due to leakage or theft. For this reason, many water utilities and urban local bodies (ULBs) in the country are now moving towards smart and real-time monitoring of pipeline infrastructure.
Pipelines are widely used for the transportation of fresh water to household, commercial and industrial consumers. Pipelines are designed to withstand several environmental loading conditions to ensure safe and reliable distribution from the point of production to the shore or the distribution depot. However, leaks in pipeline networks are one of the major causes for concern, as they can lead to serious ecological disasters, human casualties and financial losses.
In India, the government and ULBs are making constant efforts to reduce pipeline leakages by using the latest technologies, which are supposed to allow inspectors to precisely determine the location and severity of a leakage. Industries are also becoming receptive to the idea of deploying advanced technologies to treat effluents, as well as recycling and reusing effluents for industrial purposes and green belt development.
Different methods are being adopted for detecting leakages in the pipeline network, with acoustic detection remaining the primary one. Acoustic leak detection is described as the systematic method of using listening equipment to survey the distribution system, identify leak sounds and pinpoint the exact locations of hidden underground leaks. Exterior methods mainly involve the use of specific sensing devices to monitor the external part of pipelines. This includes the fibre optic method, which involves the installation of fibre optic sensors along the exterior of the pipeline. They can be installed as distributed or point sensors to extensively detect the physical and chemical properties of hydrocarbon spillage along the pipelines. Further, sensors, ultrasonic flowmeters and bulk meters need to be installed at all points of the distribution chain. SmartBall technology is also being used by utilities to detect very small leak points. Other techniques include tethered acoustic leak and air pocket inspection technology.
The Kerala Water Authority (KWA) has adopted the Sahara Drag Chute for easier and more effective detection of leakages. This technology requires the equipment to be tethered to the surface while the sensor flows along with the water. A certain velocity of water has to be maintained for the functioning of the equipment, which consists of a small drag chute that enables the movement of the sensor. KWA also uses SmartBall technology to detect leakages. A SmartBall can travel with the flow of the water for up to 12 hours, collecting information about leaks over a long stretch of pipeline in a single deployment. However, due to the condition of pipelines in the city, the SmartBall cannot be used for long distance services.
In December 2020, ABB announced that it will be providing digital water management solutions in Karnataka’s Koppal district. The project is being led by L&T Construction for the Karnataka government. It will be using ABB’s end-to-end solutions to help the local water authority track, measure and optimise water use in the district. The solution includes 635 flowmeters and a supervisory control and data acquisition system to monitor and analyse daily flow consumption patterns. It will also identify possible leaks and notify the central control room on a real-time basis.
In August 2021, Tirupati became the fourth city in the country and the first in south India to receive the Water Plus certification, as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission. The Municipal Corporation of Tirupati relies on a computer technology-based complaint mechanism regarding choked sewers, leakage, waterlogging, septic tank cleaning, uncovered manholes, etc.
Meanwhile, the Manimajra water supply project, being developed in Chandigarh, involves the installation of smart water meters for every connection, which will help minimise water leakage and theft through live updates. The project is being developed by a joint venture between S.B.E. Engineering and Infrastructure Private Limited and Tapi Prestressed Products Limited. It is expected to entail an investment of Rs 1.62 billion.
Leak detection is a field that continues to grow and advance with the use of both established technology and emerging methods. The performance of the various pipeline leakage detection methods varies depending on the approaches, operational conditions and pipeline networks. Going forward, leak detection solution providers should integrate their technologies and customise services to meet customers’ demands, and delve into the investments made for the development of smart cities and resilient infrastructure.